Does God condone raping and buying virgins?
This might seem like an odd question, but it is a sincere question that a close friend asked me a while back. The short answer is, “no,” but, let’s take a look at the Bible passage where the question comes from. The particular passage is Deut 22:28-29:
If a man find a damsel that is a virgin, which is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they be found; Then the man that lay with her shall give unto the damsel’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife; because he hath humbled her, he may not put her away all his days. (KJV)
Now, this verse (in the King James Version, which I think falls short of the original Hebrew) sounds like it is saying that a man can violently attack a woman (“lay hold on her”), have sex with her against her will (“lie with her”), and then buy her from her father (give “fifty shekels of silver and she shall be his wife”). Further, it sounds like his only crime was that he “humbled her,” which, really isn’t that bad of a crime since humility is a biblical virtue and all (Ps 113:6; Matt 18:4; Jas 4:6). But analyzing the context and the original Hebrew text will give us a different story.
Crash Course in Deuteronomy
The word, Deuteronomy means “second law.” It is the fifth of the five books of Moses, and he’s repeating the Mosaic Law to a new generation of Israelites that was about to enter into the Promised Land which was occupied at the time by some of the most ruthless people on earth. The Mosaic Law restricted freedom to provide safety, such that if God was an American politician, Christians would probably renounce Him as being a liberal. Israel had a system to protect her from becoming like the seven nations of Canaan that were in the vicinity, and part of that involved having laws regarding sexual purity. Deuteronomy 22:13-30 is a short section on the law regarding sex and marriage, so it is worth considering the entire section in order to get what’s happening in Deut 22:28-29.
The Lying Husband
The first section helps protect women from dishonest husbands.
If any man takes a wife and goes in to her and then hates her and accuses her of misconduct and brings a bad name upon her, saying, “I took this woman, and when I came near her, I did not find in her evidence of virginity,” then the father of the young woman and her mother shall take and bring out the evidence of her virginity to the elders of the city in the gate. And the father of the young woman shall say to the elders, “I gave my daughter to this man to marry, and he hates her; and behold, he has accused her of misconduct, saying, ‘I did not find in your daughter evidence of virginity.’ And yet this is the evidence of my daughter’s virginity.” And they shall spread the cloak before the elders of the city. Then the elders of that city shall take the man and whip him, and they shall fine him a hundred shekels of silver and give them to the father of the young woman, because he has brought a bad name upon a virgin of Israel. And she shall be his wife. He may not divorce her all his days. (ESV)
The section begins with a law that protects women from hateful husbands. If a husband was to turn on his wife, he could spread rumors about her to damage her reputation. In Israel, the girl’s father was expected to rear her in accordance with the Law, so it would damage his reputation as well. Falsifying testimony was a serious offence in Israel, in fact, the crime here is stated, “he has brought a bad name upon a virgin of Israel” (22:19). The penalty was two-fold:
First, the elders of the city whipped the lying husband. The verb that is translated, “whip,” is from Hebrew word yâsar, which means to discipline. But, in Hebrew, there are different forms of verbs. This particular verb is in a form called, “piel,” which means it intensifies the action. It implies more than just spanking the man and sending him home. He would lay down (Deut 25:2) such that the ground would make his body absorb more shock and the maximum number of lashes was forty (Deut 25:3), as compared to modern-day Singapore’s legal limit of 24.
Second, he would have to pay his father-in-law 100 shekels of silver, which would come out to be about 2.5 pounds. The silver itself would be expensive, but handing it over to the father would probably be more of a visual sign of the son-in-law’s admission of guilt.
After the elders scarred up the man, and after the man atoned for his wrongdoing to his father-in-law, there still remained a problem. For a husband to hate his wife so much that he is willing to try to accuse her of a capital crime, there would have to be some serious problems in the marriage. So, the man was not allowed to divorce his wife after such a scandal. There are at least two reasons to keep a couple together after this. First, if they are not allowed to separate, then they would have to work things out. It is said that the greatest factor that determines whether or not a marriage will last is commitment. Eliminate divorce as a possibility and the couple is forced to commit. But, also, we have to remember that this law is to protect Israel as a whole. If we take a dysfunctional married couple and turn them loose into Israel, then they could remarry other Israelites and spread their dysfunctions to others.
Now, it’s worth pointing out here that the Mosaic Law was a miserable failure. Even with all of these rules, corruption seeped in and Israel got dispersed into exile. Every dispensation in the past has ended in failure. In fact, even the current Church Age will end in failure, and even when Christ rules on earth in the future it will end in failure. But, that’s a topic for another day.
The Carnal Single
What would happen if the husband wasn’t just starting a rumor? What if it was true?
But if the thing is true, that evidence of virginity was not found in the young woman, then they shall bring out the young woman to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death with stones, because she has done an outrageous thing in Israel by whoring in her father’s house. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. (ESV)
Capital punishment. Now, before we pick up stones and start going after people, notice that the crime was that she had, “done an outrageous thing in Israel.” This law was limited in time and scope, such that it is not applicable today. It has served its purpose. It has served as a tutor to lead men to Christ (Gal 3:24-25) by showing that man cannot conduct himself even with a divinely inspired law.
This part of the law is difficult for modern-day Christians. It has become the norm for Christian couples to live together before getting married. This norm is a sin that is against what God intends for Christian marriage. In the days of Israel, it would have been absolutely scandalous to cohabitate, and the system was set up such that the fathers would prevent such a situation. But, even if a woman had crossed that line, she still had the option to remain unmarried, or if she married, the husband still had the option not to take her to court.
The Adulterous Couple
The next verse deals with adultery:
If a man is found lying with the wife of another man, both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman, and the woman. So you shall purge the evil from Israel. (ESV)
I know a handful of veterans that would like for this law to be part of the American Constitution. Moses repeats the purpose here, “So you shall purge the evil from Israel.” We have an example of this law being twisted up in the life of Christ. In John 8, a woman is caught in adultery, so they bring her out to Christ to execute her. Yet, the man that was with her was nowhere to be found. Illustrating that the Law was given as a tutor to show man his inability, Christ told the crowd that whoever was without sin could throw the first stone.
Well, dagnabbit, this post has gotten kinda long. I haven’t even gotten to the part with the penal code for rape, which was the purpose of exploring the topic. Let’s break this thing into a two-part series and pick it up in another post.